A skirmish broke out on Morning Joe today as PBS host Tavis Smiley claimed President George W. Bush "lied" the USA into the war in Iraq. Joe Scarborough and--surprisingly--Jon Meacham forcefully refuted Smiley's slur.
Scarborough unwittingly provoked the incident when, commenting on yesterday's 9-11 observances, he called for a Kumbaya moment in which Americans would put aside politics and thank presidents Bush and Obama for keeping the country safe. That set Smiley off: "the reality is that one of those guys lied to the American people"--and the fight was on. View video after the jump.
Watch Smiley attack, retreat then circle back to his "Bush lied" allegation.
JOE SCARBOROUGH: Now guess what? People on the left disagree with what George W. Bush did. People on the right disagree with what Barack Obama did. But we as one nation at some point need to step back and be able to say: thank you President Obama, thank you President Bush. We haven't had another attack since 9-11 in this country, and that just didn't happen by coincidence. Would you disagree with that?
TAVIS SMILEY: I wouldn't disagree with that, but here is where--you know me, I'm going to stand on my truth the best I can, even with a formidable foe like you--intellectually that is. The reality is though that one of those guys lied to the American people. And when I say he lied, I mean his administration lied. When you want to talk about the security of this country, Joe, you cannot disconnect that, you can't not dismiss the fact that he got us in a war that is now the longest-running war in this country. Because his administration--say it, Joe--lied to the American people. They did not give us the proper information. We never did find a weapon of mass destruction.
SCARBOROUGH: That's not a lie.
SMILEY: It is a lie!
. . .
JON MEACHAM: Do you believe that George W. Bush intentionally lied to the American people?
SMILEY: The answer is I can't get inside of his head.
MEACHAM: But you said he lied!
SMILEY: I can't get inside of his head. When I say he lied, I'm looking at the facts, the facts of what they told--here's what I mean by lie. The facts of what they told the American people, juxtaposed against what we know now don't square. If you don't want to call that a lie --
SCARBOROUGH: It's not a lie.
MEACHAM: It was a mistake; it's a massive intelligence failure. But I do not believe, and believe me, the Bush world does not think of me as a friendly. I do not believe at any level George W. Bush intentionally lied to get us into Iraq.
. . .
SCARBOROUGH: This is a president who I believe let people around him know he wanted to go to war in Iraq --
SMILEY: That's what I'm saying.
SCARBOROUGH: No, that's not what you're saying. No, you said he lied. So when George Tenet, the CIA Director, comes in to talk to him, and he says this is the evidence that he has weapons of mass destruction, and the President of the United States says to him, in there, is this all you have? Is this the best evidence you have? Because this isn't enough. And when you have the CIA Director standing up and waving his arms: Mr. President, it's a slam dunk--they have weapons of mass destruction. Saying that not in 2010. Saying that in 2002, a year after 9-11. Now if historians want to say that Tenet was doing that because he felt the pressure of Dick Cheney, etc., that's one thing. But historians will be hard-pressed to suggest that George W. Bush knew that he was lying to the American people when he told them that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
. . .
SMILEY: However you and Jon want to parse this, when you, to your point Joe, know there's something you want to do. When you make it clear that you want to go to war. When you think what the American people need right now is a swift and certain and severe response, and then you create a narrative to match what you want to do? You call that a lie, you call it misled, you call it a creation, you call it Disneyland. Call it whatever you want to call it! But you said that he knew he wanted to go to war. We all knew what he wanted to do. He thought that was the right thing to do: to have a swift, certain, severe response for the American people. Then you create a story to match that. Call it whatever you want to call it. I call it misleading. I call it lie. I call it making stuff up. I stand by that.
SCARBOROUGH: No, no, no, no, no. He didn't "create the narrative." The narrative was given to him by not only his intelligence, the CIA --
SMILEY: That's his administration!
SCARBOROUGH: It was given to him by British intelligence, intelligence all over the world. And by the way: what George W. Bush was hearing from intel in 2002? Democrats were saying in 1999, in 2000 and 2001. I can't beleive I'm having to say this again. Google it. The New York Times on the eve of George W. Bush's inauguration said Saddam Hussein, weapons of mass destruction, were his greatest threat. The Washington Post said the greatest foreign policy threat to George W. Bush on the eve of his inauguration was Saddam Hussein. And suddenly George W. Bush decides to go into Iraq, and suddenly, sides switch!